Originally Written On January 7, 2017
Experience: I came to the original Titanfall late because I didn’t own an Xbox One when it came out. However, once I did play it I really enjoyed it and probably put a good 15 hours into the multiplayer before dropping it for newer games.
2014’s Titanfall was a game destined to fail. Pegged as the Xbox One’s system seller and EA’s Call of Duty killer, the expectations that the press placed on the game were never going to be met. When sales figures for both the game and the console were fairly modest, the game was unfairly viewed as a flop. But while it didn’t live up to expectations and was overpriced for the amount of content it had, the game was fun to play. The added mobility felt fresh in a landscape of bland first person shooters. Titanfall 2 mostly retains this feel while also creating a better overall package surrounding these mechanics. However, despite being a more realized version of its predecessor, Titanfall 2 still manages to stumble in a couple of areas.
Titanfall 2 is, at its core, a twitch-based shooter in a similar vein to Call of Duty. Hitscan weapons and left trigger/right trigger action are the meat and potatoes of the game’s shooting. The hit detection caused me no problems, the weapons have the right amount of weight to them, and there is a good variety of choices for your arsenal that aren’t too overwhelming and don’t lead to guns that all feel the same. Titanfall 2 does everything a game in this genre should do and does it well, but the game wouldn’t be anything special without the elements surrounding the shooting.
Titanfall 2 is quick, but I hesitate to call it fast. DOOM is fast. The original Titanfall is fast. But the sequel is a little slower and ends up being a worse game for it. It’s still faster than most shooters out there, but the fact that it was slowed down from the first game makes mobility less of an asset. A pilot running along a wall that faces out into the open becomes more of a sitting duck in this game, rewarding the player who stays back and waits more than the active player.
But the movement is still satisfying in the moments that it does work. Wall-running and double jumping around, getting into games of peek-a-boo with opponents utilizing the same move set, and turning the tables after being able to escape an enemy who spotted you leads to intense moments that aren’t found in a lot of other shooters. The grappling hook is a great addition that increases mobility, although it should be a permanent part of a pilot’s loadout and not an optional extra. Most importantly though, this is all fun to do. Even when it ends in getting picked off by a sniper, chaining wall runs, double jumps, and grapples together is immensley satisfying.
And then, of course, there are the titular titans. They have gotten systematic overhauls from the first game, but they immediately should feel familiar to anyone who played it. Once again, Respawn have managed to create something that feels plausibly like a mech but ten times easier to control. Audio and visual effects give the impression of a giant lumbering through the streets, but the controls are actually somewhat snappy, allowing the player to keep up with the speed of the action. In Titanfall 2 there are six titans as opposed to the original game’s three, and none of them are returning. They all have their own weapons and abilities, including an ultimate ability or “core.” These can include things like a rocket barrage or a really big laser, and they reward players able to stay in their titan for a significant period of time.
Titanfall 2 is not the exact same game Titanfall was in terms of feel and movement, but it manages to capture a lot of what that game did in those areas and even improve on it in some ways. It’s when it comes to the multiplayer design that this sequel starts to fall apart a little bit.
The main problem with Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is that the maps are not very good. There are only a few maps that I consistently want to play on, and one of them is Angel City, a map returning from the first game. Another one of my favorites is Eden, a map with a monorail line down the center and plenty of open buildings to go in. What makes these maps work is that they are open enough to make titans viable but tight enough to make using the pilot abilities worthwhile. If you are constantly moving on these maps, it is unlikely that you are going to get sniped by stationary pilots or titans. The bad maps are the ones with large stretches of open space with nothing in the middle for pilots to maneuver around and hide behind. This style of map does not work in Titanfall. They make me want to play the Angel City 24/7 playlist all the time, just because I know I’ll be getting a map that rewards players who use the mobility to their advantage.
Titanfall 2 also comes with a couple of new modes in addition to returning modes like Attrition, Last Titan Standing, and Hardpoint. The first new mode, and the one Respawn focused most of their marketing on, is Bounty Hunt, where two teams are trying to compete for a higher dollar amount. Players earn dollars by killing AI enemies that spawn in rounds. After a round is completed, two banks open up where players can deposit this money. However, if a player dies to somebody on the other team, their killer gets half of their money. This creates a compelling risk/reward balance, although I think the 50 percent penalty is a little too high and too beneficial to players who focus solely on killing other pilots while ignoring the AI. Also, the shared location of the AI reduces some of the problems with the maps, because all of the players are ideally already coalescing around one or two spots.
The other big new mode is Pilots vs. Pilots, which is exactly what it sounds like. It is a basic deathmatch mode that removes both AI and titans. It is fun to mess around with when you want to test out your raw pilot abilities, but it suffers from the same map deficiencies that a lot of the other modes do.
These modes are both fun, but Attrition remains the main draw in Titanfall 2’s multiplayer. The use of AI in Attrition is still great, and the mode really takes into account all of the game’s mechanics. As much fun as Bounty Hunt can be, it is tough to get the most out of the movement options when most of the enemies are spawning within a small radius.
The good news is that even if the modes and maps currently in the game have some issues, any new ones added down the road will be free of charge. Respawn has forgone selling DLC that would split the fan base, a decision that can only benefit the game. And unlike other games that do this but replace the DLC with bad microtransactions or blind boxes, Titanfall 2 has no form of aggressive or manipulative monetization. There are some skin packs available for sale, but even these are barely pushed upon the player. Titanfall 2 sets a trend that more games should follow.
But there are ways in which Titanfall 2’s multiplayer is following trends that it shouldn’t. This is most prevalent in the levelling up system. Titanfall was maligned by some for not have the same unlock treadmill that Call of Duty has. It led to claims that the game lacked longevity. In response to this, Respawn has added just that to Titanfall 2, with plenty of weapons, abilities, perks, skins, and titans that are unlocked as the player levels up. I like that there are a ton of ways to customize loadouts in Titanfall 2, but the game would be better suited and more fair if these options were all unlocked from the beginning. This goes for most games and not just Titanfall, but the carrot on the stick should be getting to play more of a really fun game, not endless hope that the next time the numbers go up will finally be the time that satisfies you. This is the smallest problem with Titanfall 2’s multiplayer, but it is a problem nonetheless.
While the multiplayer is enjoyable but somewhat disappointing, Titanfall 2’s campaign is very impressive. The first game had no singleplayer component whatsoever, but the 6-hour campaign in Titanfall 2 is great from beginning to end.
The campaign starts with main character Jack Cooper talking about the bond that is formed between a pilot and titan. This bond is the basis for the personal story of Titanfall 2. While there is a war going on that Cooper is very involved in, the memorable parts of the story are the interactions between Cooper and his titan, BT-7274. These two are first introduced in the beginning of the game, and their bond grows as the game goes on. The larger plot, supporting characters, and villains are all pretty forgettable, but the relationship between Cooper and BT is enough to keep things moving through an incredibly well designed campaign.
What makes Titanfall 2’s campaign great is the constant introduction of new mechanics. Every level in Titanfall 2 brings with it a new design philosophy. Some of these ideas could sound like gimmicks on paper, but they are all fleshed out and used to their fullest without overstaying their welcome. Discovering these on my own was an enjoyable experience, so I don’t want to spoil them here. I’ll just say that the campaign does a great job of keeping things fresh.
The game also doesn’t allow its combat to get stale. A good combination of time spent on the ground and time spent in BT mixes things up well enough, and smart usage of the environment allows the player to completely bypass certain combat encounters. Times when I was able to approach a group of enemies, make my way to a wall, run pass them while throwing down a grenade, and then be completely out of their line of sight reminded me of the most satisfying moments in Mirror’s Edge.
All of this great level design is underlined by beautiful environmental design that brings players to locations they wouldn’t expect to see in a military shooter. The Titanfall 2 campaign is a collection of great ideas that are well-refined and well-implemented, and it alone is worth playing the game for.
Titanfall 2 is a disappointing sequel in some ways. The movement speed changes and poor map design both hinder the multiplayer experience. That being said, it is still the most fun shooter of its type, and the addition of an inventive singleplayer campaign is the greatest improvement Respawn could have made. Titanfall 2 is a game that can be almost entirely fixed with better maps and some gameplay tweaks. But for now, it’s a great game that I’m frustrated isn’t better.
Final Score: 4 Stars